Loud Sounds & Hearing Aids

How do loud sounds affect people who wear hearing aids?

This is a question that I hear often, both from those who wear hearing aids and those
who don’t.  When people think of hearing loss, they
generally think of an inability to hear soft sounds, which is absolutely true.
What they don’t realize is that most people with hearing loss are actually MORE
sensitive to loud sounds than their normal-hearing counterparts are. In fact,
loud sounds can actually be a bigger issue for people with hearing loss than for
their normal-hearing counterparts.

This problem, called “recruitment,” is very tricky for those who fit hearing
aids.  On one hand, we need to amplify the specific sounds that our patients
have trouble hearing.  On the other hand, if the input to the hearing aid gets
too loud, the power to the hearing aid could easily exceed the patient’s
uncomfortable loudness level, or UCL.   In the past, the patient’s only means of
dealing with this problem was turning the hearing aid’s volume up and down via a
manual control. This created significant issues for the hearing aid wearer, who
was constantly turning the hearing aids up and down in response to sounds that
were either to soft or too loud.  In either case, the noise problem had already
happened. The patient was still struggling to function normally.

The good news is that today’s hearing aids allow for an automatic volume
control.  Using something called “compression,” the audiologist can manipulate
the digital circuit so that soft speech is audible (can be heard), and loud
sounds are loud but not uncomfortable. Does this happen on day one?  No.  That’s
why it’s imperative that patients go through an extensive trial period so that
the appropriate adjustments can be made.  Once those adjustments are made, the
patient can expect to be able to tolerate the volume in any situation.

January 16th, 2014 by Kevin Amdahl, MS

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